In Church 3.0 I said,
“In Church 2.0 we evaluated a church’s success by how many people attended and how much money they left there. Because Church 3.0 is a movement, success is not measured by how many people come but by how many go! We want to measure the church’s sending capacity more than its seating capacity. We ask: Is the message, the method and the mission spreading from one person to the next and then on to the one after that?” [Cole, Church 3.0, p. 169]
Our mission is to find and develop Christ followers rather than church members. There is a big difference in these two outcomes. The difference is seen in transformed lives that bring change to neighborhoods and nations. Simply gathering a group of people who subscribe to a common set of beliefs is not worthy of Jesus and the sacrifice He made for us.
We must shift from an institutional manner of measuring to an influential manner. Instead of the number question, we must look for the personal influence of the real church—the people. Many ask for benchmarks to measure success of the organization, as if that is measuring the church. It is not. The church is not the building, the organization, the programs or the event. You can measure all those things and still not measure the success or failure of the church, because the church is something else entirely. As Reggie McNeal likes to say, “Church is not a ‘what’ but a ‘who’.” The church is disciples in relation together on a mission—following Jesus into influence within the world. Once you factor that simple shift into the mix the entire equation changes. How do you measure influence of a person in relation to other people? That is a far better barometer of how we are doing as a church or a movement. As I said in Organic Church:
“Church attendance is not the barometer of how Christianity is doing. Ultimately, transformation is the product of the Gospel. It is not enough to fill our churches; we must transform our world. Society and culture should change if the church has been truly effective. Is the church reaching out and seeing lives changed by the Good News of the Kingdom of God? Surely the numbers of Christians will increase once this happens, but filling seats one day a week is not what the Kingdom is all about. We do Jesus an injustice by reducing His life and ministry to such a sad story as church attendance and membership roles. The measure of the church’s influence is found in society—on the streets, not in the pews.” [Cole, Organic Church, p. xxiii]
We lost count of the number of churches in our movement years ago. You cannot measure numbers of churches in a multiplication movement. Oh sure you can in the very early days where 2 become 4 and 4 becomes 8…and so on. Even with my mathematically challenged mind I can do that. But as the exponential growth curve rises suddenly old means of measurement are useless…impossible actually.
In The Starfish and the Spider, Ori Brafman and Red Beckstrom say,
“Counting the members of starfish organizations (decentralized organizations) is usually an impossible task. It’s not only that no one’s keeping track, but also that anyone can become a member of an open organization—or likewise withdraw their membership—at any time.” [Brafman, Beckstrom, The Starfish and the Spider, p.p. 50-51]
As we say at CMA: “if you are successful in a church multiplication movement than you can't count the number of churches. If you can count the churches than you are not a multiplication movement.” How’s that for a measuring stick? You’re success is determined by not counting. It reverses the whole conversation doesn’t it?
But we still want to know how we are doing. Success for the church is measured on the streets not in the seats. We measure human interaction and transformative stories. I am very proud of some of the work done by one of our associated ministries in my own hometown of Long Beach, CA. Due in large part to the efforts of Kingdom Causes LB homelessness has been reduced by upwards of 25%. That is success in anyone's book, but could that happen if we were content to merely count butts in seats and 10% of dollars in the wallets found in those butts?
What happens when we celebrate things that don’t matter and ignore the ones that do? I asked that very question on my Facebook page once and received a ton of interesting responses. Perhaps the saddest was the simple reply: “You get church.” Ouch.
We fuel what we celebrate. When we turn inward and hide in our own selfish bubble we lose a grasp of reality. We become deluded into a place of selfish consumerism and passive opinions that count for little more than the whining of a spoiled child. Our true north is lost and we spiral into a deeper and deeper level of deception as we invest more in what we think is success. We think we are doing well when in fact we long ago took the off ramp from God’s true missional agenda and are now lost in a maze of new programs for ourselves, for our organizational prosperity.
Jesus, of course would not be considered a success by our old standards, as he left behind only 120 disciples (Acts 1: 15). Apparently he neglected to attend the “How to Break the 200 Growth Barrier Seminar.” But he was never interested in large numbers of people coming, he was interested in a few that would go, be fruitful and multiply. This approach eventually rose to overcome the Roman Empire when no other strategy could.